The 21st century has seen a massive increase in the amount of data created and collected by individuals and organizations, giving rise to a host of concerns related to information management, data utilization, and individual rights. Indeed, many of today’s biggest social challenges happen around issues of information, culture, data, technological innovation, and digital life.
This month, the School of Information launched the Center for Digital Society and Data Studies (CDSDS) to bring the University of Arizona’s top digital information experts from across disciplines together to analyze today’s mediated landscape for social life and to address questions and opportunities presented by the new era of big data.
This center aims to bridge disciplinary, geographic, methodological, and paradigmatic divides in order to address some of the large technology, data, and related human-use issues faced today, including those surrounding privacy, data curation, digitizing information, how to organize data in a way that makes it useful, and how to manage tensions relative to individual identities around the globe.
“One of the reasons the School of Information needed a center focused on data, digital culture, innovation, and social behavior was because the school is already a part of these larger conversations happening across disciplines,” said Catherine Brooks, an assistant professor of information and communication and the director of the new center.
P. Bryan Heidorn, the director of the School of Information, is pleased to have a “new hub for research activity, harnessing already-growing momentum at the University for research on today’s information problems.”
“The need for cross-disciplinary and cross-college collaboration is growing, and the potential payback, sizable,” said Brooks. “Almost every industry, from business to medicine to government, is faced with on onslaught of data, which they are trying to turn into usable information. Those interested parties are shifting day-to-day practice given emerging information and communication technologies, so they care less about academic disciplines than they care about addressing big problem areas.”
This center will spur scholarships, community projects, and research grants, leveraging UA’s areas of strength and pulling in scholars from across the campus into large research teams. The center will also facilitate off-campus partnerships, involve guest experts and community leaders in problem-focused forums, and host workshops involving both researchers and industry partners.
“The world is evolving so quickly and so are the data that we use to understand that world,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “That means we have to elevate our analytic capacity as both an institution and as a country if we are to better ask and answer questions related to the impact the ‘big data’ revolution is having on our digital networks, online behaviors, and private and public lives. This is what the new center will focus on. I am very excited to see what they can accomplish moving forward.”
As part of the launch of the new center, Barry Wellman, a visiting faculty member in the School of Information and a top sociologist, will give a public lecture on social networks on Feb. 10 at 4 p.m. in the Student Union Kiva room.
Barry Wellman is the co-director of the NetLab Network and the retired S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Wellman founded the International Network for Social Network Analysis and two journals: Connections, and City & Community. He is the North American editor of Information, Communication & Society. Wellman is the co-author (with Lee Rainie) of Networked: The New Social Operating System (MIT Press). Although he’s given talks at the UA for students in disciplines such as sociology, information, and communication, this upcoming lecture, titled “Networked: the New Social Operating System,” is open for public attendance.